Diary

The Buffalo News: Arrogance Up, Circulation Down

     The Buffalo News is losing subscribers. Audit Bureau of Circulation figures show western NY’s largest daily losing many thousands of paying customers in each of the past few years. The News is hardly unique in this. The ABC figures for most US newspapers tell of steady subscriber erosion.

      The beleaguered industry offers up many reasons for its decline with competing Internet news sources at the top of the list.  No doubt but I believe in western NY there is another reason.

      Subscribers to The News are sick to death of liberal Democrat points of view not only on the opinion pages but throughout the sheet. The paper most recently opposed Buffalo’s own Carl Paladino for NY Governor. Western New Yorkers were not swayed and some 60 per cent of them voted for Mr. Paladino.

       The paper hasn’t let up either. Political reporter Robert McCarthy in the Nov 7 edition mocked Paladino and opined he could now go back to being “plain old King Carl” Another of the paper’s wise men in the Nov 4 number complained the Paladino electoral effort was just another national embarrassment for western New York. Jeff Simon a critic at One News Plaza managed to insult Paladino voters in an unfavorable review of Sarah Palin’s Alaska TV offering. Simon included in the review his opinion that Paladino carried western NY because the voters hereabouts were being charitable to a home-town boy.

       Keep in mind The News is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway. Buffett bought the paper in the late ’70’s when it was barely profitable. The Oracle of Omaha describes himself as a liberal Democrat but his first move in Buffalo was establishing a monopoly. Buffett purchased what was The Buffalo Evening News  which had been locally owned since it’s inception. Just up Main St was The Courier-Express also locally owned.

      The papers competed hard but there was an agreement that The Courier  would have Sundays to itself. This helped compensate for the evening paper’s big weekday circulation advantage.        Buffett’s hand-picked executive Stanford Lipsey remembered, “There was a daily newspaper here in competition called The Courier-Express . It became one of those fights to the death type thing” (“Buffett’s Newspaper Man”; Leo Adam Biga, 6/2/2010) The fight began when Buffett ordered a Sunday edition of The News at half the price of it’s competition. Five years later The Courier-Express printed its final edition as employees literally wept.

        Buffett likes monopolies and his Buffalo investment began to pay off stupendously. Some years the paper’s gross profit exceeded fifty million dollars, not bad for an asset he bought for thirty-two and half million.

      The old Evening News was Republican on the opinion pages, but played it down the middle in news coverage. Buffett and Lipsey immediately changed that policy. The 81 year-old Lipsey is tight with the downstate Democrat machine. Gov. David Paterson asks for Lipsey’s take on upstate matters and Lipsey calls US Senator Charles Schumer “Chuck”

       Berkshire-Hathaway has brought shareholders a 20 per cent return for many years. It is doubtful The News now contributes that kind of return. The paper’s management has relentlessly cut costs in a race to offset declining subscriber and ad revenue.

       Buffett’s 2007 letter to shareholders promised to “stick with” the Buffalo daily “unless we face an irreversible cash drain”

      Insulting the intelligence of many subscribers and making fun of a native son would seem to guarantee just that.  But the journalistic noses at One News Plaza don’t smell the story of their own demise.